The Long Con

In Commentary, HOME, LITERATURE by Sam Prance

I saw this article on Facebook, about a man who is suing his wife for producing ugly children, since she’d had plastic surgery and didn’t look as ugly as she once did. Here is said article. My immediate reaction was outrage, but then I thought, well it is one of those grey areas – and some people lie about all sorts of things in relationships. And it got me thinking about ‘Gone Girl’. About truth, deception, perception. I’m probably going to end up writing a dissertation-length piece about this, because it is frighteningly relevant – however – below is a short insight into the themes of this brilliant novel. Seriously. ‘Gone Girl’ might be the most terrifying book I’ve ever read.

imagesPresentation and perception in Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’

‘The crime is clear. The truth is not.’ In Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’, both crime and truth grow more abstruse with each turn of the page. Indeed, ‘Gone Girl’ is an exposition of “the truth” – and its inevitably convoluted relationship with perception and portrayal.  ‘Everyone is unreliable, everything is questionable.’ ‘Gone Girl’ is a depiction of the unreliable narrator – or, in this case, narrators – par excellence.

The delicacy of the unreliable narrator is that whilst, eventually, the reader may learn to mistrust the narrator, we must always believe that the author is as dependable as the narrator is not; the reader ‘should be able to go back to the beginning…know everything, and say: “Check – check – yes, she gave us that information.”’ Any twists in a narrative should surprise and shock, but not leave the reader confused. ‘Gone Girl’ has two unreliable narrators: Nick Dunne, the raconteur of the present, where he is the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance; and his wife, Amy, who narrates the five years since they met, fell in love and married. Told in alternating chapters, Flynn cleverly manipulates the reader into drawing conclusions that she then violently demolishes halfway in. There are many types of unreliable narrator – from “the Clown” to “the Pìcaro” – and ‘Gone Girl’s’ Amy ascribes to “the Liar” faction – she is consciously and deliberately untrustworthy: ‘I hope you liked Diary Amy. You were supposed to.’ To have become so attached to a character only to find that her real personality is the antithesis of what was depicted is a brutal disenchantment, further exacerbated because our own disillusionment is synonymous with Nick’s. Amy is a far more complex character than she portrayed herself to be: her marriage – her entire life – is an exercise in deception.

Even without Amy’s damaging falsified diary entries, Flynn encourages the reader’s notions of Nick’s character – and his apparent guilt – by revealing undesirable aspects of his life, like the affair he is having with one of his students.  Flynn exploits society’s preconceptions – in this case, ‘a wife goes missing, you assume the husband did it’ – to further cement our belief in Nick’s guilt. Yet even whilst allegedly misleading us, Flynn supplies the reader with information that suggests we cannot trust our own deductions: the reader witnesses, through Nick, the misrepresentative power of the media. The media’s influence acts as a meta-concept that parallels Amy’s duplicity: the reader is drawn into the ‘horrible hive brain that the book so successfully invokes’. By deceiving us, Flynn demonstrates the often-subjective nature of truth; and that “fact” and “evidence” are only as reliable as their employment. Media, like literature, simply portrays ‘versions of the truth’.

Flynn’s portrayal of the media addresses the global issue of deception, and how we enable it by succumbing to its influence and extending its reach – be it via Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or other virtual capacities. Amy and Nick’s toxic marriage, however; critiques the individual duplicities in everyday life. Flynn stated that she was ‘playing with the idea of courtship as a con game: You want this other person to like you, so you’re never going to show them your worst side until it’s too late.’ Both Nick and Amy felt deceived upon the realisation that the person they married wasn’t who they fell in love with: each deceit that followed stemmed from omissions that the reader can, perhaps, recognise in their own life. It is the small similarities that tether the almost-fantastical plot and extreme characters to our own reality, that lend credibility to such an unbelievable premise. In a society where the gravity of marital vows is increasingly diluted, Flynn reminds us that when you ‘willingly yoke yourself to someone else’; you do so for better… or for much, much worse.

(William Rigan’s ‘Pícaros, madmen, naïfs, and clowns: the unreliable first-person narrator.’ is also cited within this text)

Sonia Muhwezi

Sonia Muhwezi is 21 years old. She recently graduated from Brighton University, where she studied English Language and Literature. Having interned at Orion publishing, she hopes to go into Publishing. In other Sonia related info, it’s worth mentioning that she can turn any conversation into a game of Six Degrees to Harry Potter and is a Beyoncé stan.

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